A few years ago, I worked in the produce department of Abundance Co-op in Rochester, NY, and, during that same period I also worked for a brief stint at Dinosaur BBQ, which I believe holds a modest renown in the smoked meats world. In preparing this post, I began thinking about my history as a meat-eater, and this admittedly small moment in time stood out due to the conflicted nature of the work involved, and the environments themselves. At the time, I really couldn’t have cared less where my food was coming from, and I held both jobs simply because they furnished paychecks and I needed to pay the bills. The co-op is where I first encountered anyone who was even remotely passionate about food and quality nutrition, and to be honest I found the more zealous of them gratingly obnoxious, not because of their passion, but because of the application of their beliefs towards myself and others who didn’t understand their values, or the logic of paying at least twice as much for just about everything. One of my co-workers told me explicitly that she absolutely would not under any circumstances have a sexual relationship with anyone who she even suspected of eating meat. The reason why was simple enough: because it’s gross, duh. Sadly, this sort of sentiment drowned out all of the other sound, reasonable arguments for why it was important to actively think about food and it’s origins, and what you put into your body, in general. In hindsight, I wish I would have listened more closely to the wiser folks at the co-op, but instead I used to get a real kick out of working at Dinosaur and the co-op back to back, flipping my bbq tee inside-out before beginning my shift at the co-op, and walking around there smelling like a dang smoked brisket!
It would be about another two years until I started to put any real thought into what I was consuming as an eater, and the transition came through reading two wildly popular books that I am sure made a great deal of people think twice. The first was Barbara Kingolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle which presents a seasonal approach to eating as well as a basic, extremely readable overview of modern industrial farming practices and its effects on individual communities, and the ecosystem as a whole. The second was Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which is so pedestrian a gateway book, that it needs no introduction. For me, one of the most distressing things about reading these books was learning that the meat I was eating was not what I thought it was–to be sure, I didn’t think it was anything but “meat”, a ribeye, some bacon, whatever, but now things were different. I began looking at these gigantic meat sections, all vacuum-sealed and almost sterile, and I would start to think about these cows being force-fed a diet of antibiotics and corn, which they can not adequately digest, resulting in enormous ulcers, standing knee-deep in there own feces, often enough collapsing to there deaths from disease before making it to slaughter, and it just started to become such a horrible canvas. I’m not an animal rights activist or anything, I just find those practices irresponsible, and disgusting. Thus, I was faced with a dire conundrum: how to continue to eat meat and still feel good about it?
Shorty thereafter I found an essay in the Best American Essays 2007 edition, edited by David Foster Wallace, titled A Carnivore’s Credo by Roger Scruton. This essay (which I am sorry to say is not available online for free, but can only be viewed if you are a subscriber to Harper’s) did a great deal to help me reconcile this moral problem of meat-eating. Essentially, he argues that if one is in favor of ethical, and respectable farming and treatment of animals, than one must eat them. He writes: “I would suggest that it is not only permissible for those who care about animals to eat meat; they have a duty to do so. If meat eating should ever be confined to those who do not care about animal suffering, then compassionate farming would cease. Where there are conscientious carnivores, there is a motive to raise animals kindly.” So the key, then, was to find a meat producer who raised their animals in a sustainable, humane way, and to support them by purchasing their products. A simple enough idea, but in certain places there are surprisingly few alternatives to the grocery store. However, that became my ideal, if not always my course of action. But now, having moved to Portland, OR last spring, things have changed, and I try in almost every circumstance to find out where the meat I am buying is coming from, and to buy as local as possible.
I love to eat meat. It is an activity in which I might admittedly overindulge from time to time, but finding a thick, delicious pork chop, cooking it to perfection, and savoring all that it is, well, that’s just my thing. I don’t even know nearly as much about it as I’d like to, and that is one reason why I’ve chosen to cook my way through The River Cottage Meat Book. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is an outspoken advocate of traditionally raised meat that has been produced in a local community, and using this book as a guide, my intention is to discover all the fantastic meat resources that this area of the Pacific Northwest has to offer, and hopefully inspire others to do the same in there communities. This book contains a great deal of information outside of recipes, and my coverage of the book will be the same. While I definitely will be cooking all of the recipes, I also plan to visit farms, meet framers, showcase butchers I use, and learn and present butchering techniques, in addition to many other things, I am sure. I have a lot of hope for this project, and I believe it will lead to a number eye-opening and educational experiences. Here’s to Meat!
* Note * : I have started another blog which will only feature this project, and it can be found >>here<<. I will, however, be including all posts on this blog as well. The distinction is just for those that may not be interested in all of the other minutiae that goes into this blog.